German cabinet recommends moving German troops from İncirlik base

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German Tornado jets are pictured on the groung at the air base in Incirlik, Turkey, on January 21, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / TOBIAS SCHWARZ

Germany’s government has recommended pulling the Bundeswehr from İncirlik Airbase
after Turkey refused to allow a group of German lawmakers to visit troops at the base, Deutsche Welle reported on Wednesday.

The Bundeswehr has about 280 military personnel stationed at İncirlik, from where they fly Tornado surveillance missions over Syria and refuel flights for partner nations in the coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Ahead of the meeting, Bundestag deputies sought to remind the cabinet that parliament has the last word on military deployments. “In all circumstances, the Bundestag, which has the relevant authority, must consider the new situation,” Hans-Peter Bartels, the parliamentary ombudsman for the armed forces, told the RND newspaper group for reports published on Wednesday.

A majority of deputies, including Greens and legislators from the ruling Christian Democrats and their junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats, support moving the troops from Turkey to a nearby location. The left would like to see the Bundeswehr pull out entirely from its mission against ISIL.

The German government decision followed talks on Monday between German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and his counterpart in Ankara, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who said Turkey would block a Bundestag delegation from visiting troops stationed at İncirlik.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen rejected limits being put on lawmakers’ ability to visit troops.

“İncirlik is a good air base for the fight against ISIL, but we cannot accept not being able to visit our soldiers,” she said on Monday, adding that an alternative had been identified in Jordan’s Azraq air base.

She added that King Abdullah supports the move, which could pause refueling missions by two to three weeks and surveillance flights by two to three months.

Gabriel quickly shifted to damage control mode. “Above all, we should organize the withdrawal so that there is no megaphone diplomacy where we trade insults,” Gabriel told Deutschlandfunk radio on Tuesday.

“We have no interest in pushing Turkey into a corner,” Gabriel said.

Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO would not take sides and lamented that the key alliance members had been unable to achieve their own diplomatic solution to what has been a long-running dispute. “It has no effect on NATO activities,” Stoltenberg said in May.

“The dispute is a bilateral issue between Turkey and Germany.” A speaker from the Pentagon said the United States also had no official opinion on the matter.

Tension between Germany and Turkey escalated over the arrest of two Turkish-German journalists on terrorism charges and Berlin’s decision to grant asylum to military officers and other diplomatic passport holders who Ankara accuses of involvement in a failed coup attempt on July 15.

The tension turned into a crisis when the Turkish government blocked a group of German lawmakers from visiting troops stationed at Turkey’s İncirlik Airbase on May 15.

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